SLC is not corrupt – minister
Sports and politics in Sri Lanka have long run in an uncanny parallel, as a hot-bed for allegations of corruption which are often cast a blind eye upon, creating the sentiment that you don't need to be the best to represent the country.
Every major sport – cricket, rugby, football, athletics – have been dogged by one allegation or the other, ranging from mismanagement to the use of influence to get into office or into a team, which has obviously stunted Sri Lanka's sporting aspirations and growth.
Daily Mirror, in an exclusive interview, questions Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage about some of the burning issues regarding the country's sports and what his intentions are to revive its fortunes in the sports field.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview.
- Sri Lanka put in a poor performance at the recent Olympics. There was also more than twice the number of officials compared to athletes from Sri Lanka, at the games – 23 officials for 7 athletes. Isn’t this ridiculous?
Yes, I fully agree with you. I had approved only 8 officials and 7 athletes. You will have to ask the Chairman of the Olympic Committee as to how the rest went because it was they who did everything. They only sent me 16 names for my approval and other than that; I don’t know anything about it.
- So as the Minister of Sports won’t you take any action about this?
I have asked them for a report and I’m waiting for it.
- We don’t now see big names coming up in athletics anymore. Why is that?
There was a big failure for the last few years because there wasn’t proper planning. That is why I asked the Chairman who was there for seven years to leave. My target is to show our strength at the SAARC in 2013, and I want us to give a good fight against India. For the first time sports pools are training for a whole year and we have brought foreign coaches, so I think we’ll do well in the future. I’m not giving promises about the Olympics.
- Niluka Karunaratne and shooter Mangala Samarakoon who participated at the Games told us that they made repeated requests to take their coaches with them.
No, the shooter (Samarakoon) didn’t make a single request. I told Niluka to take his coach and go but he instead wanted to take his sponsor. I gave his father a ticket and told him to go so Niluka should take full responsibility for this. I met these athletes at the photograph and not a single athlete spoke to me about any of this. I asked them if they had any problems and they said there was nothing.
- Another issue is regarding television rights for cricket being awarded to Carlton Sports Network instead of the SLRC. Why is that?
Sri Lanka Cricket advertised about the selling rights in the media, and only CSN applied for this. Rupavahini and Sirasa sports should have applied. There is a committee that selects the channels headed by a Director of Sirasa. When I saw this I asked for an explanation and they wrote to me and told me that they went through the right procedure. Even the financial committee has told us that they were being paid a feasible amount. During the last three years SLRC had the rights and they agreed to give about 80 million and have settled only around 65 million where as CSN have offered 125 Million rupees. This is a good offer.
- Don’t you think this was awarded because of the involvement of the President’s sons with the network?
No, I have brought all the registration documents and have not at any point found the names of any of the sons of the President within them. I know that these boys are involved and that they are helping to develop the sport, but they are not mentioned in any of the documents and you can’t say that CSN is handled by them. I don’t agree with that. However, I’m fully supportive of this channel. When I became minister I said that we need a sports channel and you can see what they have done. All rural sports have been given proper coverage. Look at the contribution they are making towards sports. As the Minister of sports they are helping us a lot. All other channels will earn money if they were given the contract through advertisements. Yes, money is important but CSN ensures that the money would go back to the sport.
- What is the future sports?
We have good sportsmen in this country and we need good leadership. We have to have a plan, which we didn’t have earlier, and there was no infrastructure but now we are working on them. There is now a National Policy for Sports and by 2016 infrastructure will be in place. We are spending a lot of money for the rural areas and I think during the next 2 or 3 years we could reap the benefits.
- What was the idea behind the rugby club – the Upcountry lions?
Nawalapitiya was always a sports hub, the planters played rugby from the colonial area. There are good football teams and athletes who are record holders are all from Nawalapitiya. The boys in Nawalapitiya wanted a rugby club and I gave all my support.
If you look at Rugby only four clubs apart from the forces play competitive rugby, so I want to build this up. Next year there will be a club from Kurunegala too. There are many outsiders playing for the lions but my plan is to take rugby to the estates. I will give you the guarantee that within the next three years all players for the club will be from the estates.
- What are your views on the SLPL?
It’s a very good tournament. The best example is the two players we discovered for the World Cup, from the SLPL. Also many of our players get much needed foreign exposure which they usually won’t therefore this is a very good tournament.
- One of the biggest allegations that the SLC is hit by, is that it has an unlimited amount of corruption? Do you agree that SLC is corrupt?
No, I don’t agree because not a single person has come to me and given anything in writing about any corruption in SLC. Arjuna (Ranatunga) was one person who spoke about this and we invited him to give his side of the story which is being investigated. If any of body says that there is corruption in the SLC I want them to give me specifics in writing and we will most certainly look into them. Arjuna gave me a letter asking about a TV transaction – we have handed it over to the CID and all necessary parties. People can go to the media and the public and say different things but there is nothing specific.
- Isn’t it a commonly held view in this country that everything is politicized – if things are going on and the big people know about it nothing will come out? What do you have to say about this?
They say that sports are also politicized but for example Sanath (Jayasuriya) was an MP when the World Cup (2011) was played and we didn’t put him. If there was politics involved he should’ve played right? Our athletics Chairman Palitha Fernando who served 7 years was asked to leave — these things wouldn’t have happened if there was politicisation. Dr. Geethanjana Mendis was very close to ‘Chichi’ (Rohitha Rajapaksa), if there was any political interference I would’ve told not remove him right? So in sports there is no politics.
- Can you guarantee that?
Yes of course I can. Anybody can say anything but there is nothing like that. The T20 team has been announced, can anyone say there was political interference? Even in the world cup team there were no questions.
- Don’t you think that SLC is in a financial crisis because of the short-sightedness of the SLC in building these grounds?
We wouldn’t have hosted the World Cup without these venues. Pakistan was to host matches but they were cancelled and we got these matches which we couldn’t have hosted in two venues. The Hambantota grounds I believe is a good decision. When we bid for the World Cup the government said that they would help us. We have a debt towards the harbour and the State Engineering Corporation amounting to about 2 and a half billion and we are negotiating with the treasury in order to settle this. We have helped the treasury and it should work the other way too.